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SE Asia missions close, claiming success

05 June 2015

spg archives

First indigenous bishop: the Rt Revd Basil Temenggong with Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1970

First indigenous bishop: the Rt Revd Basil Temenggong with Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1970

THE closure of two mission associations which have supported the Anglican Church in South-East Asia for more than 100 years is not a sign of failure, but a natural outcome of their success, the Bishop of West Malaysia's UK Commissary has said.

The Singapore Diocesan Association, now the Singapore and West Malaysia Diocesan Association (SWMDA), was established in 1909 to support, with prayer and money, the missionaries sent out by SPG. The Borneo Mission Association (BMA) was formed three years later, and was actively involved in sending missionaries to the island.

In more recent years, both organisations have played more of a supportive part, providing fellowship for former missionaries and British clergy who have worked in South-East Asia, and at the same time retaining its focus on prayer and financial support to the four dioceses.

But, while the four dioceses of Kuching and Sabah, in northern Borneo, together with Singapore and West Malaysia - which came together as the province of South-East Asia in 1999 - are still actively involved in mission, evangelism, and church-planting, it is now being carried out largely by the indigenous Church.

And so, with ageing memberships and declining active involvement, the two associations will formally close at a celebration in London on 13 June. The remaining funds will be given as grants to the dioceses, and a new, loose fellowship will be formed to enable those interested in the work of the Church in South-East Asia to continue to hear and pray about its work.

The first Anglican presence on Borneo began in 1848, when the newly ordained Thomas McDougall, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, arrived in Kuching at the request of the Rajah of Sarawak to begin an Anglican mission. He was consecrated as the Bishop of Sarawak eight years later.

By the time he returned to England, in 1867, to become Bishop of Ely and then Winchester, the work he had begun in Borneo was already bearing fruit. A succession of missionary bishops followed, until the consecration, in 1968, of the first indigenous Bishop of Kuching, the Rt Revd Basil Temenggong.

And, just last month, the Rt Revd Melter Jiki Bin Tais became the first native Kadazan to be ordained Bishop of Sabah, in north-east Borneo.

It was a similar story in Singapore and West Malaysia, where a succession of missionary bishops from England, beginning with George Hose in 1881, culminated in the appointment of the Rt Revd Joshua Chiu Ban It as its first indigenous bishop in 1966. The diocese of West Malaysia was split off in 1970.

The Rt Revd John Wilson, who was Bishop of Singapore during the Second World War, was held prisoner and tortured by the Japanese. After the war, he caused a sensation when he baptised and gave communion to four Japanese war criminals who had been sentenced to death in Changi Prison - including his torturer.

The Anglican mission agency Us. (USPG) continues to support the Church in South-East Asia. But its mission partners now are to be found supporting the local church rather than planting new ones.

Currently, Jonathan and Beth Tearne, a worship leader and a dance and children's teacher, from Peckham, are in a year-long placement with the diocese of Kuching. "During our time, we have been helping at Sunday school and in the church's kindergarten, which has been a lot of fun," they said in an update on the Us. website.

"We have facilitated confirmation classes, taken part in numerous youth events, and shared at small group gatherings and at prayer and praise evenings. We found ourselves arranging music, choreographing dance, and even performing in a Christmas Eve musical that ended up on TV."

The province has now gone beyond planting new churches, and is actively planting six new dioceses.

Initially, the new outposts in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Nepal are being referred to as "mission deaneries": different dioceses will take responsibility for building up the church in each area until they can function as co-dependent dioceses.

"These missions are very much local-led, and the initiatives are in partnership with local Christians, and based on appeals from local Christians in those places," Prebendary Michael Sheard, who serves as Commissary to the Bishop of West Malaysia in the UK, said.

"The whole initiative for Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia is the dynamism of the Church in South East Asia, and particularly of a number of mission-minded individuals who, in a sense, have taken on the torch in the past 30 or 40 years.

"When I first went out to Malaysia in the late 1980s, the churches there were relatively small; but now they are dynamic and confident. They welcome encouragement and support from like-minded Christians in other parts of the world; but they are by no means dependent on it.

"The diocese of Kuching has increased its size six-fold in the past 30 years; and West Malaysia has increased by similar leaps and bounds - and it is not just simply the Anglican Church, but all Christians in those places, in spite of, not outright persecution, but of some quite sustained opposition in some quarters of Malaysia."

The Primate of the Anglican Church in Southern Asia, the Most Revd Datuk Bolly Lapok, will join the other bishops of the province: the Rt Revd Moon Hing, of West Malaysia; the Rt Revd Melter Tais, of Sabah; and the Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, of Singapore, at the special service to mark the closure of the BMA and SWMDA in St John's, Waterloo, London, on 13 June.

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